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Saturday, June 30, 2007

5 Short Stories from Issue 3 of The Outpost

With only a week to go before Issue 4 of The Outpost is released for general consumption, I thought it would be a nice idea to remind everyone of the 5 stories that comprised Issue 3 before they are relegated to archive status. So here's a little teaser with the first few paragraphs of each story.

Something Out of the Ordinary by Kerry Ashwin

Norman Stickleback, that's me. I'm not what you would call a go-getter, I don't excel at anything, In fact at school the other kids used to call me Nothing Special N.S. or Normal Norman.

I had no great aspirations at school. No-one expected me to have any and so I didn't disappoint them. It became easy to conform to mediocrity. I can say though I only did that with an average C. As a small boy my mother would say to the shop-keeper that I was of average size for my age. My shoes were average and my hair cut was of the times, no fuss easy to manage and perfectly satisfactory as my father said.

I didn't sail through my school years nor did I fall behind. The most the headmaster could say was that I attended punctually; and that was about the sum of it. The teachers regarded me as a fixture in the classroom, third row in the middle. The rowdy lot sat at the back, the swots in the front, and I filled the gap in-between. That suited me because I hardly ever was called upon for anything. Sports weren't my thing, but I did run when required, coming the middle of the pack. Even when there were only three in the race I came second.

My parents were never ones to make a fuss and so we lived our lives in quiet anonymity. My father was a butcher and I followed in his path. He was kept busy but never over worked. My mother was a homebody, who went about her daily business with quiet contemplation. The Sticklebacks just got on with the daily grind of living.

So no-one was expecting it when I murdered my wife. Read full story...

Cold Facts by R.T. Hag

I'm remembering how they came that night. Without intent, I think. At least for the murder. That seemed to come on as tempers flew - flew up to choke good sense out of more than one of them for there were several shots and Shrider's body jolted two or three times. It was difficult to keep up with events in the middle of the heat of their tempers and the noise of gunshots inside that room, and argument that hung like sticky clods flung about and dripping from ceiling and walls. So many hateful words, accusations, as if a script had been prepared for them down to the fast pace and deadly timing.
You are right in your question. There had to be intent, at least to harm, since they took the time and forethought to bring weapons. Many. Where do so many guns come from? An arsenal comes to mind, and after the murder the guns disappeared back into pockets and folds of material of overcoats - gone. As if it hadn't been. Not so with Shrider's body giving it all away, yet not enough for forensics and you to piece identities together and make arrests.
So you hound me, as if I am implicated, perhaps by omission, by omitting some vital clue that will reveal a name and then it will all fall like dominoes, right down to the handshake from the Mayor congratulating you for ridding the town of corruption and fear. This evil that now lurks among us. And that's the thing, isn't it? That's the real horror, more so than the loss of Shrider's life. What use was he anyway? What use most of us? It is that some of us are the fiends involved. Someone's son, someone's friend, someone's alibi.

Ahh, and there it spreads, like a disease. A mate, doing a friend a favour, covering up, doing the honours so to speak. Probably, ostensibly, for some alleged lesser crime of cheating on a wife. Not the sort of thing we arrest for these days - there you're on your own, stone him in the privacy of your own home, if you can. Read full story...

Alison's Folly by Ann Lax

Several things about her neighbour irritated Alison Parsons. She'd lived next door to Simon Ford for ten years but had never managed to be on first name terms. She was also not one of the bevy of females who flocked to his house at weekends.

"I'm a good neighbour. He shouldn't be so hoity-toity," when he resisted the lures she cast in his direction. In her huff she never noticed the slighting glance he gave the cochineal frizz that she fancied gave her a youthful appearance and was suited to a weekend painter. Or that he wrinkled his nose in distaste at the 'Obsession' fragrance that wafted his way on the morning breeze.

When she related details of his great body and cobalt blue eyes to her friend, Susie, she laughed and said to 'stop drooling over him.' She bristled at the laughter and took a deep breath to control her annoyance. She plunged in again.

"Females orbit around him like swallows." She detested swallows. They messed up her eaves. "There's a new one every month. He needs to settle down with a good woman. A local politician needs a wife."

"Who did you have in mind?" said her friend. Alison had the feeling Susie was laughing up her sleeve at her. "He sounds like a wanker to me. You're a painter Why don't you ask him to pose for you? Fully clothed of course." Read full story...

The Twenty Four Hour Affair by Malcolm Reid

Lean and well preserved for his fifty plus years, James Nixon was one of the first through customs at the Sydney Airport. His slightly creased lightweight suit, manageable travel bag and inscrutable expression marked him as a regular traveler. He had experienced most things that life could offer.

After a brief, terse conversation on his mobile phone, he climbed into a waiting taxi. The voice had a pleasant Canadian drawl. "McLeary Street, Kings Cross," he instructed the driver.

Several hours later, intermittent rain had not dampened the enthusiasm of tourists and the more colorful locals. Night owls were leaving the numerous hotels and restaurants as two uniformed policemen strolled slowly down the street. They noted, with some speculation, a man on one of the benches in the small park. His tailored, grey silk suit was soaked from the recent shower and his head hung forward on his chest. The crowd, either homeward-bound or pleasure-bent, hurried past unheeding.

"Wake up, mister!" The younger policeman gently nudged the seated figure.

James Nixon slumped sideways. His glazed eyes stared at the glowing, overcast sky. His neck had been broken and he was well and truly dead. Read full story...

Finding Hao Ling by Rani Milne

"Just be careful, Mel," he tells me in that comfortably patronising voice; the one he has developed over long years of supposed superiority and wisdom. I bristle. But Jack has proven his use in a mentor capacity and so I grit my teeth and reply. Carefully.

"I'm always careful."

"I know you are, Mel. But you don't know who has taken Hao Ling or why."

"No, at the moment I don't know, Jack. But finding out is what I do. So just shut up and let me do the job you taught me. And give me your dog."

He sighs and hands over Sasha's lead. "Fine. But don't let her get wet. She'll stink up the place."

Sasha is a jaunty little fox terrier who's always up for a romp. She's the reason I'm here and putting up with Jack. After speaking to Hao Ling's parents in Singapore earlier this evening I knew I needed a dog and I needed one fast.

Hao Ling is a chemical engineering student at Sydney University. She lives in a small terrace house just off campus in Darlington with two flatmates. And a dog. The flatmates so far yielded no clues, but the dog was my lead. It was a Maltese called - wait for it - Pookie and apparently Hao Ling walked it around the university grounds every night. The engineering and architecture departments were on the Darlington side of King Street and, with the grassy areas, ample pathways and little in the way of road traffic, Hao Ling wasn't the only one who frequented the campus after dark. Every night a cross-section of inner city dwellers could be found: dog walkers who knew each other well and who used the darkened space to stretch canine and human legs. Living in closely crowded terrace houses, the uni was their backyard. Read full story...

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